Custards baked in caramel-lined molds are as popular in Switzerland as they are in the rest of the world. The one pictured here is made into a fancy dessert with a large quenelle of whipped cream and a garnish of fresh fruit and berries, befitting the excellent cuisine of Chef Fredi Nussbaum at the Hotel Storchen in Zurich. These are relatively easy to prepare but please be aware that caramel can give you a bad burn, so be careful when preparing it. Just follow the directions in the recipe exactly and you won’t have any problems.
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water, divided
3 cups whole milk
2/3 cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Eight 4-ounce ramekins or custard cups, set in a small roasting pan or any pan about 2 inches deep
- For the caramel, combine the sugar and 1 tablespoon of the water in a heavy saucepan. Stir well with a very clean wooden spoon, continuing to stir until the mixture resembles wet sand. Place the pan over low-medium heat and let the sugar start to melt. Gently shake the pan occasionally during the first few minutes of cooking to see if there is a layer of melted, lightly-caramelized sugar on the bottom. As soon as the sugar begins to melt, stir occasionally so that the sugar at the bottom of the pan doesn’t darken too much and become bitter.
- Meanwhile, pour the remaining water into a small saucepan and just bring it to a simmer,
- Once the sugar is about half melted, decrease the heat to low, so that the caramel doesn’t cook too quickly. Continue to stir occasionally until the caramel is a deep amber color. To test for the right color, lift a spoonful of the caramel and look at the color as you let it drop back into the pan. The caramel in the pan always appears darker than it actually is. Once the caramel is a light amber color remove the pan from the heat and continue testing the color until it is dark enough – it will continue cooking far a few minutes form the heat retained by the pan.
- Wearing oven mitts, slowly pour the heated water into the caramel at arm’s length, averting your face in case the caramel splatters. After all the water has been added, wait half a minute, then check to see that the caramel is entirely liquid. If there are some lumps of hardened caramel, return the pan to very low heat and stir occasionally melt the lumps. Remove from heat and let the caramel cool for a minute.
- To coat the molds, pour about a tablespoon of caramel into one of the molds. Swirl the caramel around inside the mold, then invert it to a rack set over a piece of wax paper so that the excess drips out. Coat one mold at a time, reheating the caramel as necessary if it become too thick. (If you pour the caramel into all the molds, then start to coat them, the caramel in the last molds will have hardened before you can swirl it around.) Only use about half the caramel to coat the molds, the rest will be used in the custard mixture.
- Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 300 degrees. Arrange the molds in the roasting pan.
- To make the custard mixture, combine the milk and sugar in a saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally.
- Combine the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla in a mixing bowl and whisk well, but not until the eggs become foamy.
- When the milk boils, remove the pan from the heat and pour the milk into the egg mixture in a thin stream, whisking constantly but not quickly to avoid creating too much foam.
- After the milk has been added, let the mixture rest for 5 minutes, then use a ladle or large kitchen spoon to remove any foam from the surface. Pour the mixture into a lipped container, such as a 4-cup liquid measure, and fill the molds almost to the top.
- Place the pan of molds on the oven rack and immediately pour about 3 to 4 cups of warm water into the pan around the molds, so that the water comes about halfway up the side of each mold. If the molds fit tightly in the pan, it may be necessary to remove one temporarily to have room to pour in the water.
- Bake the custards for about an hour, or until they are completely set and no longer wobbly in the center.
- Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a rack for 10 minutes to cool. Then remove the molds from the pan and cool them completely to room temperature. Individually warp each mold in plastic and chill until you intend to serve them.
SERVING: Serve the custards in the mold or unmold them to dessert plates. To unmold, insert the point of a paring knife about 1/4-inch deep between the mold and the custard. Run the knife all around the inside of the mold to loosen the top. Using your fingertips, ease the top of the custard to one side, letting some air into the space you create between the custard and the mold. It’s working when you can see some of the caramel in the bottom of the mold. Invert a dessert plate on the mold, then invert again. Holding both the mold and plate firmly with both hands quickly raise and lower the stack to unmold the custard. If it does not easily emerge from the mold, repeat the motion several times. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream if you can afford the calories.
STORAGE: Keep refrigerated at all times. You may prepare these a day or two in advance, but don’t keep them more than 3 days total.